Margaret Gurowitz, 56, is the chief historian for Johnson & Johnson at its headquarters in New Brunswick, N.J.
What does a chief historian do?
I create and organize exhibits at the company’s museum, “Our Story at the Powerhouse,” which is located in the 1907 Powerhouse building, including developing new exhibits in medical fields where the company has made an impact. One current exhibit is about medicine in World War I, and our main exhibit area includes more than 100 vintage and modern-day Band-Aid brand adhesive bandages tins and packages. It also includes rare surgical artifacts, large-scale vintage advertisements dating back to 1886 — the year the company was founded — and displays of some of the company’s best-known products.
Are there other duties?
I also oversee the company’s more than 19,000 artifacts, and decide on new acquisitions. I also maintain the company’s online museum, ourstory.jnj.com, which uses photographs, music and audio to tell the company’s story, and the company’s historical blog, kilmerhouse.com. We also partner with other museums and institutions to make the company’s history of innovative health care better known to the public.
What is the most unusual aspect of your job?
My office is the company’s biggest artifact, the Powerhouse, which is the oldest building on the company’s world headquarters campus. The building was originally constructed to generate electrical power to run manufacturing machinery, and could generate enough power to light a small city.
What is it like to work in a historic building?
I have an office area that includes the company’s climate-controlled archives, where there are shelves with boxes of artifacts stored in acid-free materials.
What are some of the interesting items?
Among our artifacts are the company’s Maternity Kits, dating back to 1894, when the company first began selling kits with items such as antiseptic soap to help make childbirth safer. We also have photographs that date back more than a century and rare items such as an Art Deco First Aid Kit from the 1930s and examples of the company’s original sterile surgical dressings from 1886.
We also have some large artifacts, including a stagecoach trunk from one of the company’s founders, James Wood Johnson, who was one of three brothers who started the company.
Can the public see the collection?
Not right now, but we are working on offering guided tours to the public of the newly restored Powerhouse, which was reopened last year.
What in your background prepared you for this?
When I was growing up, my father took us on visits to historical sites on the weekends. That led to my studying history in college and, in 1983, taking a summer job as a researcher for a book about Gen. Robert Wood Johnson, the son of one of the company’s founders. After graduation, I worked in the company’s corporate communications department.
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